In Tempe, Arizona, a few passionate employees have brought Viasat into a statewide spotlight by partnering with the Arizona Technology Council. The goal: Engaging students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers statewide.
“In a 9-month period, Viasat Arizona grew from being a best-kept secret in the Phoenix community to being a leader in community engagement,” said Omar Alam, a radio frequency/microwave test engineer in Tempe. “As a company, Viasat is now well-known across the state of Arizona for our commitment to future STEM leaders.”
Viasat Tempe works with the Arizona SciTech Institute, which hosts the SciTech Festival — an annual STEM-themed festival in communities statewide. Viasat supports the institute with scholarship funds during the festival.
Viasat employees not only showcase high-tech gadgets and activities at booths during the numerous festival events, but also mentor students at under-served area schools. These students belong to the Chief Science Officers (CSO) program, also part of the SciTech Institute. Tempe employees have donated hundreds of hours to helping these CSOs.
Building awareness for future employees
The Tempe site – whose employees are designing and building the payloads for the ViaSat-3 satellites as well as radar for military equipment and in-flight user terminals – has unique and specific engineering needs.
“It’s critical for the general public to become aware of the innovation that we drive here in our Tempe office,” Alam said. “It helps build awareness of our brand, and ultimately, reaches a key target audience for Viasat: the students who could one day be innovating at Viasat.”
Viasat has an ongoing need for radio frequency engineers, specialists within the field of electrical engineering who design and improve wireless networks. RF engineers are vital to space- and satellite-related innovations, and typically have backgrounds in electronics, physics and math. Because it requires extensive education and skills – including good verbal and written communication – pursuing an RF engineering career can be daunting to prospective students. By showing them the impact an RF engineering degree can have in the world, Alam and his peers are aiming to steer technology students toward the field. Alam led the outreach efforts starting in late 2017.
“I think it’s quite spectacular what happened just by getting out and networking in the community,” he said. “We’ve impacted more than 7,000 students.”
With Viasat’s help, the K-8 Laveen School District in southwest Phoenix recently put on a STEM Pathways event that drew about 200 families to meet with representatives of STEM-related organizations.
“The students that came were very excited,” said Joe Roselle, the district’s community engagement coordinator. “As teachers, we can’t really describe what it’s like to work in these fields. So, we need to get them connected with people in these professions to engage kids in STEM. This gave them a visual representation of what they would need to do (to pursue such careers).”
An 8th-grade student in the CSO program said Viasat has had a positive impact.
“As a Chief Science Officer, I was able to work very closely with Mr. Alam and Viasat, and with their help, they truly have changed the lives of many,” said Nikhil Johnson. “During our STEM Pathways event, we promoted and grew a passion in students for STEM, Viasat and their booth at the event showed how they truly have grown a relationship with the community; they have been pioneers in evolving the modern idea of STEM.”
Roselle is now planning a student field trip to Viasat in April.
“We know industry has its own set of goals but it’s really nice to see companies like Viasat reaching out and trying to pull us in,” he said. “A lot of our kids are below the poverty line. To have tech professionals who are willing to travel to where we are and engage our kids is really awesome.”